In the animal kingdom, the top predators in the food chain are those that have changed little in the millions of years of evolution, The same applies in 4WD vehicles; vehicles that have maintained the basic architecture and those which did not change the key attributes of its design will be found on the apex 4WD predators that we feature here. These key design features include:
Ladder Frame Chassis. This type of chassis is the back bone of 4WD vehicles as it has been proven to be supremely robust to take on the twisting and flexing they are subjected to in off-road driving. This is also the reason why they last much longer than the average sedan.
Solid Axle. Good off-roaders are equipped with a solid housing straight front axle. Immensely durable than the independent front suspensions, they have less moving parts, so servicing is less likely. These solid front axles are the reason why off-roaders can ably handle those huge 33-inch diameter off-road tires. Using anything less than a solid front solid axle, odds are already against you in the durability side even on standard sized tires.
Recirculating Ball Steering. This steering system is extremely strong compared to a rack and pinion steering system; now so popular with most SUV’s and pickup trucks. Most of the times, these steering systems last the entire life of the truck.
Three-Box Body Design – The three-box body design is critical to off-road vehicles to enable it to perform their multi-role duty particularly in load, bulk holding and passenger carrying capabilities. Their flat exterior surface, with minimal curves makes for easy straightening out in the field away from the body work shop. This feature also make adding on external protection systems and load carrying accessories like racks and bar much simpler.
High seating position – High seat position ensures that the driver has the best view of the surrounding terrain. Not having one can result in easily getting a vehicle grounded and immobile. It also promotes a sense of control over surroundings and is what makes SUV’s and pickup’s popular to both city slickers and trail drivers.
Vehicles with the above mentioned attributes are at the top of their game in the 4WD world; as far as production vehicles are concerned. As mentioned earlier, they share the same design and engineering that has withstood the test of time. They are low volume production vehicles simply because of their cost to build—but their intended purpose are the ones that will get you through the toughest of terrains. They are separated only by what their intended purpose is, either utility, recreational, or both. Below are the top five off-roaders, from the most expensive to the most rediculously affordable:
The Mercedes Benz Gelandewagen G professional/Editionpur – Not the Hollywood star gangster rapper variety but the working G wagen as they are better known. Simple in comfort and form, it’s the priciest of this class of vehicle. One wonders the logic of owning one; until you get to drive it in its intended habitat and it all becomes all clear. It’s still looks the same as its first variant, the W460, externally, with very minor, if not unnoticeable difference to the current G professional. Extremely difficult to come by even in used form due to its high price tag.
The Land Rover Defender – With very little changes externally from its original variant back in 1949, this icon is known for being the first vehicle ever seen by most of the population to enter the most impenetrable of terrain. Its aluminium birmabrite alloy body does not rust and is easily pliable to shape. It’s also the preferred vehicle of the queen of England whenever she wants to be behind the wheel, off-road. It is said that 75% of all land rovers built, are still running. It’s the preferred “utility” vehicle of the upper side of the demographics scale.
Jeep Wrangler Rubicon JK – Its roots go back to 1941, from its military lineage, and has been the design basis of the Land Rover. It is more intended for the recreational set, nowadays.. It just recently has been optioned with a diesel engine, the first time the Wrangler has gone diesel.
Toyota Land Cruiser 70 Series – First introduced in 1980 to replace the FJ/BJ 40 Land Cruiser of old, it maintains the same body frame and chassis from 1980. It is immensely tough and reliable, however, it lacks a bit in riding comfort due to its rear leaf springs. Sadly it is not available through your local Toyota dealer since it is only available in certain markets.